Friday, November 16, 2012

“Disconnected” Doesn’t Mean “Not Connected”

This past weekend, as I sat down with a cup of tea and enjoyed what might be the last hints of warm weather here in New York, I turned to an incredibly intriguing article from the New York Times.  Written by Aimee Lee Ball, it discusses the struggles and eventual “coming around” of children and families to lives without power after a natural disaster, and just as importantly, without constant connection.  The article hints at the fact that a loss of power begins almost like any withdrawal event, and eventually gives way to rediscovering (or discovering for the first time for young children) what it means to “unplug.”  It highlights the hardships of having to give up or shift from a routine (which is anxiety-producing enough . . . read Charles Duhigg’s book on habits for more about this) to something that feels “new,” and discusses the challenges with rebuilding (or building for the first time) skills that many would consider “old school.”  For instance, in our house, after putting our daughter to bed, my wife and I spent the better part of a night playing rummy, something we haven’t done for quite some time.  While it was certainly less technologically stimulating than being hooked up to our phones or tablets (or both at the same time), we interacted personally much more effectively than if I had been playing Angry Birds: Star Wars and she had been spinning away on a slot machine app and we both just happened to be sitting in the same room.

I’ve had discussions with colleagues about whether there will be a connected “tipping point,” a time when we are too digitally connected to truly be efficient and when the benefits of knowing everything as it happens pales in comparison to what we’re missing.  Many of my colleagues feel that being digitally connected 100% of the time is a good thing.  I tend to be a little more reticent in that regard.  While I certainly consider myself a digitally connected educator I believe that there is much more to being connected than communicating through the digital cloud.  Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Pinterest, augmented reality, and ad infinitum all have excellent educational implications, but so too does sitting down with a group of other educators and engaging in heated discussion to solve a real problem in real-time.  While I imagine some would argue, I find it much easier to enact positive change when I can meet with others, face-to-face. 

The challenge, of course, for many of us, is finding a way to disconnect.  We might want to visit the classroom or office next door, but we just have so many emails to respond to.  Or, we just saw that Twitter post about Hostess going bankrupt and we have to check it out (no more Twinkies? Inconceivable).  There are so many advantages to being digitally connected 24/7 that we don’t think of the advantages of taking a break from time-to-time.  Here are three things you can do to disengage, if only for a short time.

  • Take a walk with some colleagues.  Seriously.  A change in environment forces you to disconnect and often gives a different perspective if for no other reason than the fact that the scenery has changed.  Plus, it is easier to walk and talk than it is to walk and use your phone/tablet (trust me, I’ve experienced this one first-hand).  If you still need convincing, remember that it is great exercise.  I’ve found that a twenty/thirty minute walk during lunch is particularly re-energizing.

  • Shut your tech down for an hour each day.  Build some time into your schedule where you can take care of non-tech items.  Maybe this is meeting with other educators in your district, doing some planning/reflecting alone, observing classrooms, or reading from a book.

  • Vary your media.  If you have to send an email to someone, consider changing things up and placing a phone call.  Or, if applicable, take a few minutes to visit with that person face-to-face.  Communicating with someone in each of those three scenarios requires a different set of skills.  Our students (and therefore by extension, all of us) need to be experts in all of those skill sets.  So, why not practice?

In my eyes, we should always strive to be 100% connected.  But being connected digitally is very different from being a truly “connected” educator.    Only through the proactive action of varying our connection media can we claim that prized title.

Ball, Aimee Lee. (2012, November 12).  Hurricane Sandy Reveals a Life Unplugged.  The New York Times.  Retrieved from

Duhigg, Charles. (2012).  The Power of Habit.  New York: Random House.